The Hail Mary Recruiter Problem

by | General

As a software developer, I receive LOTS of attention from technical recruiters. I’ve got an active public profile on LinkedIn and I try to stay engaged in the technical field with my blogging and attendance at our local tech meetups in my hometown.

It’s only natural that I get a lot of attention, not that I’m a 10X rockstar programmer or computer genius by any stretch of the imagination. But software development happens to be one of those career fields that is gaining a lot of attention and spotlight these days, and will only grow in importance.

And I’m deliberately doing this on purpose. Technology is changing at an ever increasing pace. Even we software developers have difficulty keeping up and abreast of all the latest changes and new concepts in software development.

There is this phrase that is being bandied about these days … SOFTWARE IS EATING THE WORLD.

It means that organizations and companies are increasingly becoming reliant on software and software developers, to successfully execute their core business. Which is a GOOD thing if you’re a software developer. The career opportunities for software developers are continuing to grow by leaps and bounds.

However, the days of one company taking care of you until retirement and looking forward to a lifetime pension are LONG gone. Everybody needs to constantly stay marketable in today’s ever changing job market and that means keeping your technical skills up to date, as well as keeping a well known and public professional profile on the internet.


So I full well know that keeping a public professional career profile out on the internet is going to attract lots of headhunters and technical recruiters.

Some of my software developers and colleagues like to complain that they get constantly hounded by recruiters. They think it’s an annoyance that they have to put up with getting unsolicited phone calls and e-mails that promise new career opportunities for them.

I honestly don’t have much sympathy for them.

How many other career fields can you think of where companies and headhunters are proactively trying to reach out to you for new career opportunities.

Not very many at all.

Our country is still suffering through a long and drawn out financial recession which many folks and families are still struggling and coping with.

There are whole swaths of our country who are suffering economic depression because of the loss of manufacturing jobs and industries that simply don’t exist anymore.

So those complaints I hear from well paid software developers (who average at least TWICE the median salary of American workers), frankly fall on my deaf ears.

I feel eternally grateful that I work in a career field that is very much in demand and continuing to grow in importance and relevance.

And I sincerely appreciate what technical recruiters do. When you boil it down, their job is to help others find good paying and rewarding jobs and careers … not a bad way to make a living! Not only do you get paid to help others, you get the double bonus of knowing you’ve just helped someone else achieve their own career goals!

That said, there’s some things that SOME (and I emphasize SOME, not ALL) tech recruiters do that honestly puzzle me.

I recently received an e-mail from what I presume came either from a tech recruiter or perhaps an internal human resources employee looking for new job candidates.

It didn’t come from anyone I know in my professional network (that should be a danger sign, in of itself) or had done business with in the past.

I’m confident they found me either on LinkedIn or based on some public blogging articles I regularly post on the internet … my contact information is pretty easy to obtain.

Here’s the e-mail message in its entirety (the names of those involved have been redacted to protect the innocent) …

Hi John,

Just wanted to touch base with you again to make sure my previous message didn’t slip through the cracks. Your experience looks like a great fit for our Backend Node.js Tester Contract position here on the xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx Team. Check Us Out

We are looking for an experienced Android developer who is passionate about xxxxxx and xxxxxxxxxx. You will join as a founding member and own both architecture and implementation to facilitate seamless data flow across xxxxxx xxxxxxx.

Collaborate with other pioneering teams in the xxxxxxxxxx xxx Group to combine digital technology with sporting mechanics to create the ultimate in xxxxxx-tech for products touching millions of users. xxxxxx xxxxxxx

This position requires demonstrated professional experience writing unit test in code in Node.js.

Learn more about what it’s like to work at xxxxxx. Working at xxxxxx

Job Location: xxxxxxxx, xx.

This is a critical hire so please let me know when a good time to chat would be and the best number to reach you.

All my best,

xxxx xxxxxxxx

Talent Acquisition Consultant


After I read the e-mail, I thought about all the different gut reactions I had, from the perspective of a software developer.

If I had to sum up the basic problem with the letter, I’d have to say it’s what I’ve coined, a “Hail Mary” solicitation.

There’s actually nothing wrong with the technical content and subject matter of the letter itself.

It’s basically advertising for a hourly contact QA software tester position with experience in Android UI development and NodeJS experience on the backend.

What I find most disturbing about this letter is the sender has no idea who I am nor what my particular technical expertise is.

The tone of the letter is also rather presumptuous … even though I am 100% certain I have never met with nor had any sort of correspondence with this recruiter, they presume to know this position is actually a good fit for me.

That’s what I mean by the “hail mary” solicitation …. the “hail mary” phrase originated with the American sport of football.

It’s a last ditch effort pass made by the team quarterback, usually on the fourth down for whichever team has the current ownership of the football, in the hopes that some receiver will be in the exact right position on the receiving end, to catch the ball and either reset back to first down or better yet, the catch that gives the offensive team a touchdown.

It’s the same thought that came to me after I finished reading the e-mail.

It felt like it was a last ditch, and desperate hail mary pass by a recruiter, in the hopes that a developer, ANY developer, will come along and actually respond back.

Like throwing spaghetti against the wall and see if anything sticks.

There’s a reason why the hail mary maneuver is considered a last ditch effort…it usually never works.

And I’m only guessing here, but I’m better that the recruiter who sends out these kinds of unsolicited e-mail queries to prospective software developers, barely gets ANY sort of responses back, let alone from anyone actually interested in following up on the position.

Yet I continually see these kind of e-mails come into my inbox on a regular basis.

Nowhere on any of my resumes or my public career profiles do I list Android as part of my technical expertise.

Yet the recruiter still somehow thought I would be a good fit for their team?

It speaks to a general lack of technical awareness. Does the recruiter even know what “Android” is, and how it pertains to software development?

Or did the recruiter merely assume that ANY software developer knows how to program Android applications?

In either case, it speaks to a general lack of knowledge about technical stacks. Most software developers possess a particular set of hardware and software programming skills that comprise a particular “technical stack”.

For instance, an iOS developer will most likely possess knowledge in either Objective-C or Swift programming languages, and at least a cursory knowledge of the C or C++ programming languages. They will also likely possess additional knowledge about backend development like REST APIs and some sort of knowledge about either relational databases or NoSQL databases for data persistence.

The recruiter or HR employee who knows what comprises a technical stack and how and what each component of the technical stack fits into the whole picture, is going to be quickly scan through any software developer’s resume and know whether the developer possesses the right technical stack for the position they have in mind for the developer.

The recruiter who sent the e-mail had absolutely no clue what my technical expertise and experience was.

Not to mention the e-mail advertised for a contract/hourly position for a Quality Assurance tester … if the person had spent two minutes taking the time to CAREFULLY read my resume or public internet profile, they would have learned I’m a full stack software developer and NOT a QA person.

Again, it goes back to my theory that this was a “hail mary” pass. Perhaps the recruiter has some sort of mass distribution e-mail script that sends the same copy of this form letter solicitation to thousands and thousands of developers, in the hope that at least one or two developers will “bite”.

I wish no ill will to whomever sent out this query … but I guarantee they will continue facing an uphill battle going about trying to successfully reach out to developers.

I certainly don’t want to paint the picture that all or even SOME recruiter practice this kind of recruitment.

There are plenty of recruiters and agencies whom I personally know, that wouldn’t even dream of sending this kind of blind solicitation to software developers.

They know the value of actually going out of their way of meeting and greeting developers face to face. How?

My hometown happens to be a very major tech hub on the West Coast and there are many tech meetups and gatherings where like minded software developers and others in the Information technology field come meet together to mingle and listen to various keynote presentations and talks.

At many of these technical meetups are time slots reserved either at the beginning or end of the meetups where recruiters and agencies can introduce themselves to developers.

It’s an excellent way for recruiters to make themselves known, without having to resort to cold calls and unsolicited e-mails, which usually result in little to no successful responses.

The BEST recruiters invite me to face to face meetings where they talk about what MY career goals are. And where I’d like to see myself in five years. And what my idea of my technical dream job is. They start with asking what I would like from them, not the other way around …. novel concept, right???

Many recruiters I know even take the time and effort to research general technical concepts.

Like what a web server does. Or what a REST service is. Or how software applications communicate with each other. The purpose of XML and the problem it solves. The same for the JSON data format. Or what AJAX is.

I certainly don’t expect recruiters to know how to code … that’s not their job, it’s MINE. But the recruiter who knows how to speak in my technical “lingo”, and has at least a general idea of what kind of technical stack I prefer to be in, is going to stand out in my mind much better than the hail mary recruiter who doesn’t know me from the next guy.

Oh, free donuts help too…

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